Community Transit, Sound Transit, and Pierce Transit are among the agencies offering fare-free service

In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, several transit agencies in the Puget Sound region have announced that they are switching to fare-free operations and some are also cutting service. As we’ve been tracking on our updated coronavirus dashboard, there are a lot of changes ahead as the situation evolves.

The general consensus is that reducing most contact between bus drivers and riders can be done with rear door boarding and withholding fare collection until conditions return to normal. Riders needing ramp or ADA access are allowed to use the front doors if needed.

As of writing (on Thursday night), seven transit agencies have announced fare collection suspensions: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Skagit Transit, and Whatcom Transportation Authority. These fare suspensions apply to all services, including trains, ferries, and paratransit, and will take effect at various times, the latest so far being Tuesday, March 24.

Full details after the jump.

King County Metro and Seattle Streetcar

Metro has announced that it will no longer collect fares on its buses, water taxis, and paratransit beginning today. There are also major cuts to bus service that begin on Monday, March 23, and a service change for the Eastside that is also taking place this weekend. These fare changes also apply to the Seattle Streetcar, which will only run the First Hill line and suspend the South Lake Union line.

Sound Transit

Sound Transit will also stop collecting fares today on all services, including Link light rail, Sounder, and ST Express. Link will remain on its Connect 2020 schedule when it resumes operations on Monday following this weekend’s downtown closure (with bus bridging in effect). Sounder trips will be reduced to 8 round trips on the South Line and 2 on the North Line. ST Express routes operated by Metro (522, 541, 542, 544, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556) will have reduced trips during rush hours. Other ST Express routes remain unaffected at the moment.

Community Transit

Community Transit stopped collecting fares on Friday, March 20, and will continue to encourage riders to use the rear doors until further notice. Four coach operators were diagnosed with COVID-19 and began quarantining 6-14 days ago. CT will be implementing a new supplemental paid leave program (of up to 80 hours) to allow employees to self-quarantine if sick with potential coronavirus/COVID-19 symptoms.

Beginning Monday, March 30, Community Transit will reduce its services by 25 percent. Commuter routes to Downtown Seattle, UW, and Boeing will be the most affected, while local routes will also have longer gaps and reduced hours of operation. CT has seen total boardings in mid-March decline 57 percent compared to February 2020, while ridership on commuter routes have dropped almost 80 percent.

Pierce Transit

Beginning on Tuesday, March 24, Pierce Transit will stop collecting fares and ask riders to use the rear doors for boarding. The agency’s customer service office at Tacoma Dome Station will close on Wednesday, March 25, with all inquires taken by phone instead.

Pierce Transit has also cordoned off some seats on buses to promote social distancing between passengers.

Everett Transit

Everett Transit will continue to collect fares but is reducing service and operating hours at facilities. Beginning on Monday, March 23, buses will run on weekdays with Saturday service levels. Routes 6 and 70 will be temporarily suspended and Route 18 will use a special schedule. On Saturdays, buses will operate with Sunday service levels, except for the suspended Route 6.

Everett Station’s lobby will only be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends. The customer service center at the station will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Kitsap Transit

Beginning Monday, March 23, Kitsap Transit will stop collecting fares on its buses and ferries. The fast ferries to Seattle will have limited capacities and reservations for the Bremerton route have been suspended. The agency reports a 66 decline in bus ridership and 75 percent drop in ferry passengers in mid-March compared to late February.

Intercity Transit

Intercity Transit will require passengers to board from the rear doors on buses unless they are in need of ADA or ramp access. The agency stopped collecting fares in January as part of its pilot program, but has also reduced service in response to the coronavirus crisis. The One and DASH shuttles have been discontinued, along with commuter service to Tacoma, which has been replaced by routes to Lakewood.

Mason Transit Authority

Beginning on Monday, March 23, Mason Transit will use reduced schedules on most of its routes. Route 8 and the “Zipper” shuttle will be suspended. There will be no service on Saturday and limited service for dial-a-ride users on weekdays and Saturdays.

Clallam Transit

Clallam Transit has suspended Route 123 (the Strait Shot) between Bainbridge Island and Port Angeles, but will continue to provide regular local service.

Skagit Transit

Skagit Transit has stopped collecting fares and plans to maintain its current levels of service.

Island Transit

Beginning Monday, March 23, Island Transit will implement major cuts to its bus service. The reduced weekday service will be based on normal Saturday levels, with extended hours of operation. Saturday service will remain unaffected until further notice. The agency’s guided tours program has been cancelled until further notice.

Whatcom Transportation Authority

Whatcom Transportation Authority has stopped collecting fares and will not be selling passes at its outlets.

13 Replies to “Coronavirus: Many agencies offering free fares, some cut service”

  1. An expected (and unwelcome) reason to support fare readers by the back doors. (They do this in SF and I found it rather helpful during more mundane times.)

    1. Those back-door fare readers would become high-touch opportunities to spread the infection.

      Nor do they handle cash payment (which wouldn’t be that big a problem if ORCA had been embraced as the option to incentivize).

  2. Splitting hairs, but Link won’t exactly stay on its Connect 2020 schedule. It will stay on 14-minute headways, but trips will be 3-4 minutes faster and more reliable without having to singletrack.

  3. “‘Tis an ill wind that blows nobody good!” pretty much summarizes this morning’s revenue-collection adjustments. It’s probably longer than a little-while that little paper rectangles and metal disks have cost the transit system more than they bring to it.

    Same for electronic card-readers, which I really will kind of miss, though they could never make up for those exciting mechanical coin-counters that used to spin my PCC streetcar-fare around in the sunshine before it went jingling into the box.

    Is there even any such thing as a coin-fed Pay Toilet anymore? Neither flushes nor buses are “free”. Gladly or grudgingly, we vote to have the cost automatically deducted.

    I will say that, as an explanatory gesture to Link’s real world at this stage of its existence, people need to get familiar with the fact that until electric rail gets its own completely-reserved right of way terminal to terminal, headways and arrival times will always be tentative and approximate.

    But if only as a humanitarian gesture, could somebody please tell me why the concept of a fourteen-minute headway even exists? Revenue calculation? Obscure regulation? Not personally into Numerology, but always thought that Golden Number was THIRTEEN!

    Don’t really care who gets the credit, but have I just completely explained everything?

    Mark Dublin

  4. Regardless of the medical chart of this afternoon’s wind, I’d like this discussion to accept a concept that should keep itself on topic by virtue of its presence in context:

    Together, the corona virus, the condition of our country’s whole infrastructure including all our transit, and our politics at every level have handed us un-refusable permission to experiment. And not only with routes and fares.

    Exercise for this sunny afternoon: Think of the difference between the political scene facing average student ORCA card holder whose first election this will also be… as opposed to those whose first vote was last either last election or any before.

    Bruce, Martin, David and everybody else with a conceptual red editor’s pencil, I’m not looking for slack but its opposite. Routes, revenues, and politics can no more be separated than vehicle handling, training, and pavement conditions.

    Needed skill is to keep attentions to these elements out of each others’ way.

    Mark Dublin

  5. On the two buses I rode today, there were more people riding, and less distance than usual over the past two weeks. Very little room to spread out at all, let alone sit or stand 6 feet from another person. Very different experience from the previous two Saturdays. Can’t say for sure that it’s because of free fare and fewer trips, but they could have something to do with it.

  6. When will Metro and ST announce which specific trips are cancelled?

    ST has stated which routes will see reduced service, and how many peak hour trips they will lose, but not which specific trips.

    Metro has stated which routes will see reduced service, but hasn’t stated when and how many trips will be cut.

  7. ST’s March 19th posting regarding service reductions includes the 554 being affected, and I am pretty sure it is also a Metro run route. You may want to add this to the information above.

  8. Wonder if the argument could be made that coupled to a federal bailout of public transit, a low income fare is required of recipient agencies?

    I am concerned though that without a fare, how will we keep paratransit demand from surpassing capacity. Also how will replace the lost revenue?

    1. The people you’d have to convince to bailout transit are the same ones who’d be most skeptical of requiring low-income fares.

      Existing agencies that have free fares don’t have an overwhelming number of riders. Usually there’s a minor increase. Paratransit is limited by the high bar to qualify for it. If there’s an explosion of people asking for rides, waiting times would rise, and that might deter people.

      Expenses go down when service is cut. Vancouver BC once had a strike of bus drivers and Skytrain fare inspectors, but the Skytrain drivers belonged to a different union and didn’t strike. The net result was that the bus routes were suspended and Skytrain ran free. Because the TVMs fulled up with cash after a couple days and went offline, and there was nobody to take the money out. People were concerned about increased expenses but Translink said its expenses were actually lower because it wasn’t operating hundreds of buses. It wouldn’t be that favorable for Metro because it’s still running 3/4 of the service, but the decision of how much to cut and the fares were made at about the same time so perhaps they factored it in.

      A lot of organizations are already lining up for federal bailouts, so transit would be one of thousands. It may make more sense to focus on giving money to individuals over organizations. If people have money they’ll spend it and pay taxes.

  9. How about making transit free or low cost all the time? That will increase the riderships and reduce traffic significant.

    At least give it a try for a few months when covid-19 is all done.

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